Stop Visualizing Success

“I’ve always wanted to travel,” people say. “I’ve always wanted to write a book,” say others. “I really should sit down and think through that idea I had.” “I’m finally putting my thoughts in order and am almost ready to begin earnest work.” “Next year is my year.” “I don’t have time like other people have.” “When all of this settles down, I’ll get going on that project.”

I’m working hard to ignore other people who say that they’re writing, despite my strong urges to the contrary. I’m working hard to ignore writing groups. I’m working hard at not thinking about succeeding in anything that I’m trying to do (which is tough to do, because I like thinking about the things I want to happen actually happening).

I wrote my draft. I edited my draft. I did hours of research about agents, query letters, manuscript formatting, and publishing houses. I have ten queries out to agents, and I have an excel tracking sheet to follow my rejections. I am working through two outlines of new stories so that I’m on my way to completing the next book. I have a schedule (which I made rather quickly) and I’m making sure that I’m constantly taking the steps I laid out for myself.

But I’m not thinking about doing anything. I’m working hard at just doing. Look, I’m not perfect at it (hence this post, right? I’m aware of the irony).

We humans love to talk about what we’re doing. We love picturing ourselves winning the race, finishing the project, and generally being a busy worker bee, typing away (or doing whatever it is we need to do to accomplish our own particular mission).

When I succumb to the instinct I have toward these behaviors, I feel least at ease and most anxious. I know that visualizing success brings me exactly zero steps closer to success – and sometimes even provides a psychological (chemical?) satisfaction that inhibits my motivation to continue putting one foot in front of the other. I get the wrong sort of satisfaction out of thinking about publication and the right sort by writing another page of text. I get the right kind of relief from writing for four hours straight or hitting a sixth consecutive day of completing something worthwhile despite having a 50 hour per week job and five days of climbing, ice hockey, and rowing.

I’m really trying to ignore the world of people who meet to discuss writing. I’m attempting instead always to be writing. I apply this elsewhere: I want to be traveling, skiing, sleeping, and doing whatever it is I think I want to do. It’s in the doing and not the imagining that anything ever gets done, after all.

There’s an exception to this rule: if I come across other people who are actually doing the thing – writing the book, in this case – then I want to be inspired by those people. I want to sit down with you and write – to keep me accountable. But only if we’re really going to write – not just think about how much writing we’re going to do eventually.


I was reminded of this 2011 Forbes magazine article when I got to thinking about this topic earlier this evening.

About Steve Capone

Interested in Domestic and Foreign Policy, Ethics, and Political Thought. One-time adjunct instructor and current full-time educator of small humans. Europhile, historophile, & bibliophile. M.S. Philosophy (Univ. of Utah 2013) M.A. Humanities (Univ. of Chicago 2007)
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